Why do so many cultures associate the heart with emotional and mental character?
It seems to be a fairly universal thing. Solzhenitsyn once said:
The line between good and evil lies at the centre of every human heart.
I personally have a very Zen-influenced interpretation of that (which I'll be detailing in my book). Pascal said:
The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.
And I know Japanese and Chinese cultures both take the same view of the heart being associated with mental functions in their word for psychology: 心理学 (literally, heart study*). The only exception I can think of is Malay culture, which uses hati (liver) in much the same context where we'd usually use heart. This is known to lead to some hilarity in A-level biology in Malaysia when students sent to the butcher for a cow's heart to dissect translate the term wrongly and end up lugging several kilograms of liver back to an exasperated bio teacher.
I suppose the experience of heartache might shed some light on why this link has been made, but now I have to wonder, why does it feel like it does? Why should getting your heart broken result in that horrible, crushing feeling in your chest? I'm quite curious about the neurobiological reasons for this and so have decided to grab this lecture by Prof Antonio R Damasio and have a listen. Will try to remember to post a summary and my thoughts on the matter later...
* That's just off the top of my head, so I'd be much obliged if someone could tell me if it's a bit off.